NBA senior photographer Andy Bernstein discusses photographing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Part 1)

The instant the general public saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s statue on full display, so many images popped up.

The 16-foot, 1,500 pound bronze statue showed a towering Abdul-Jabbar shooting his famed sky hook. Purple & gold confetti dropped from the sky. And Abdul-Jabbar, himself, started admiringly at the likeness of himself.

The old adage that a picture is worth 1,000 words applies to Abdul-Jabbar’s statue unveiling. And when it comes to documenting such pictures over Abdul-Jabbar’s 20-year storied NBA career, no one has come close to capturing that than NBA senior photographer Andy Bernstein.

Below the jump, Bernstein shared plenty of photos of Abdul-Jabbar’s career, which spans six NBA championships, six MVP awards and staying on top of the league’s all-time scoring mark.
Bernstein: Back in the day, the NBA had a publication called NBA Today. That was a tabloid old Sporting News looking photo. This was shot in 1984 and they wanted to do a cover shot of Kareem and Magic Johnson. But  it wasn’t possible to do it before hand or  set up anything up. So I took it upon myself to ask them to pose during the pregame warmups. Imagine that happening today. Kareem wasn’t thrilled about it, but it worked out. I didn’t go through a PR guy or anything. I just grabbed them both and told them and asked if we could do it. I took two frames and that was it

They were great together. Obviously Magic came in and it was Kareem’s team. But Kareem recognized that Magic’s personality took pressure off of him to be the vocal leader. He allowed Magic to do his thing, but Magic was very respectful of Kareem. I remember in the early days, he referring to the Lakers as Kareem’s team. It was a very comfortable coexistence.  When Pat Riley became coach, he was able to draw out the excitement of Magic and Showtime. Kareem fit in that perfectly and didn’t have to assume the role of having a public persona. He was the silent assassin and he went out and did his thing, while Magic was leading the band.

Bernstein: “This was Kareem’s retirement ceremony in 1989 where he’s sitting on a rocking chair. This was one of the few times everyone saw Kareem with a big broad smile like that and feeling very comfortable. Dr. J [Julius Erving] came and was one of his contemporaries and the guys were gravitating toward him. It was a moving and beautiful ceremony. The Lakers gave Kareem a Rolls Royce and wheeled it onto the court. Chick Hearn introduced Kareem. Dr. J gave a beautiful speech.  Magic also spoke. It was a very moving tribute. Kareem seemed very at east. It was nice. He seemed very grateful and was able to take it all in.”

Bernstein: This was a moment where I got lucky. I was looking at the bench. In those days, the Lakers were blowing guys out in the third quarter. The starters were usually sitting, but all three of them are into the game by seeing their expressions. I’m very fortunate I was able to get them together from across the court. It’s a valuable picture. I don’t remember any pictures that I shot where all three are in the same frame together with action pictures. It never worked out. But sometimes you get lucky with a picture on the bench. I’ve made a lot of good pictures over the years with guys on the bench.

I recognized all three of them were out of the game at same time. I don’t remember what was going on on the court. I was possibly in transition from one side of the court to the other and saw them through the lens and then went back to it. So I waited for a good moment. I got lucky all three are looking in the same place with no one in the way.

Bernstein: This in the Lakers’ locker room at the Boston Garden after winning the 1985 NBA Finals. This the podium where TV stations did their live interview and the Captain and Dr. Buss got to hold the trophy and pose. Kareem was not a great poser. But he was elated after this. It was a tremendous moment.

I was totally into the moment. Everyone knew the history with 1984 collapses when the Lakers should’ve won against the Celtics and then having to wait a whole other year to redeem themselves. No team had ever beaten the Celtics in Boston Garden, much less the Lakers. The fact that they won it there was mind blowing. The garden was devastated and the intensity was beyond belief. It was my job to record it the best I could. It was a thrill to be there. Of all the 30 NBA Finals I’ve covered, that was definitely number 1 in my mind. The rivalry was unbelievable. With all the personalities, all of the future Hall of Famers and storylines involved, I remember every game being intense and the back and forth between Boston and L.A. I remember it being super exciting and being totally into it.


Could anyone top Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring mark?

Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s statue in sky-hook pose to be unveiled Friday

Snapshots from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s statue unveiling

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and email him at

All photos courtesy of Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE

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